Geek Babble — Otakon 2014!

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Otakon 2014 is the only convention I’ve attended this year as I was unable to attend Katsucon. With only one convention under my belt I was determined to thoroughly enjoy myself at this Otakon. As usual my group and I arrived on Thursday afternoon. Thanks to a mix-up we were unable to get a room at the Sheraton. Instead we stayed at the Renaissance Harbor Place which wasn’t too much further than our usual spot. It turned out we were right above the Gallery Mall and across the street from the HarborPlace shopping center. Getting food or needed supplies was extremely easy and the sky walk connecting to the Baltimore Convention Center was also close. It came in handy for avoiding the crowded streets below and it provided a nice spot to take pictures of cosplayers. We spent the afternoon setting up our consoles (Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii) and I took some time to work on my backlog of articles on a borrowed laptop. After a while it was time to get our badges.

Unfortunately, getting our badges on Thursday wasn’t a simple task. For the past seven years we’ve always waited until about 6 or 7 before tackling the pre-registration line. This year was no exception as we lined up around 7:30. The lines were extremely long and the mood quickly went from joy to discomfort as the line barely moved at all. This year was the first year Otakon had a hard limit of 35,000 attendees. Instead of a healthy mix of pre-registration picks up and those who would register on Friday (and Saturday) everyone had to pre-register in to guarantee a badge. It felt as if everyone had decided to pick up their badges on Thursday.

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As 11PM approaches we’re all still waiting to get into the BCC to get our badges.

As we shuffled along in line the sun continued to set. An hour passed, two hours passed and finally the frustrating news had arrived three and half hours later. The line was closed. We all had to return to our hotels and try to pick up our badges in the morning. Rumors began to swirl that Otakon had relied on free Wi-Fi from the adjoining Hilton hotel in order to process registrations and the system had gone down. Later we would learn the system was hard wired but had crashed for unknown reasons while the Otakon website suffered a DDoS (denial-of-service) attack. I spent the night processing all of the Street passes I’d gotten on my 3DS (about 100) and glanced at the numerous complains on Twitter about the pre-registration line before going to bed.

The next morning we spent about two hours in line and the issues that plagued Otakon’s registration system had been resolved. The process was smooth and once the line started moving it took less than hour to get my badge. It also helped the badges themselves had been streamlined. Instead of having attendees choose from six anime series on a badge everyone was given the same badge. To be honest the artwork and hard plastic came out nicely. After picking up my badge I returned to the room and decided to relax for a while before heading out to the first industry panel late in the afternoon.

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Have anime con, otaku will line up!

As I got my equipment together I helped my friend and boyfriend with their costumes. Although I had brought my Persona 3 costume with me I found I wasn’t in the mood to cosplay. I took a quick picture of them and then slipped out to attend the panel. I got to the Hilton with a few minutes to spare and picked a seat next to the closest speaker. Thanks to a mild hand injury taking notes would be painful so I brought my microphone and recorder with me. (I’d also accidently left my notebook’s pen in my room.) First up was the Crunchyroll panel. It was moderately attended and I was surprised to see Otaku USA contributor Evan Minato as a CR employee. As the panel ended I had to hurry back to the Baltimore Convention Center for the Viz Media panel.

Unfortunately, there was a scheduling conflict between Viz’s panel and Aniplex of America’s. There was no way I could do both, so I decided on the larger of the two companies. I was greeted by a Viz employee handing out free manga at the door. As I picked a seat near the speaker, we were told there was plenty more manga to grab. I ended up snagging the first volumes of Toriko, Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, Tegami Bachi and Kimi ni Todoke, all series I’ve not read or seen the anime for. The Viz Panel was just as enjoyable as it was last year and Sailor Moon and Ranma 1/2 were the major topics.

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One of the photo shoots I passed while taking the sky walk.

Once the panel ended I returned to my room via the sky walk. I found a few groups of cosplayers and took some pictures. Back in the room I found my friend and boyfriend had changed out of their costumes. When I asked what happened the only replies I received were “It’s hot outside,” and “My costume fell apart.” Amused, I sat down and checked a few more Street passes on my 3DS before heading out to the dealer’s room. There wasn’t much I wanted to buy except for Psycho-Pass. I ended up getting the Limited Edition on Blu-ray. It did come with the soundtrack, a few trinkets and a chipboard box. Still, dropping $100+ for a single season of a series all at once isn’t a normal affair for me and I wonder how some fans do it on a regular basis, especially Aniplex fans.

Psycho-Pass was the only thing I was able to buy as the dealer’s room was about to close. That night I started on Shin Megami Tensei IV (a new game since my old game was stolen a few months ago). After completely getting trashed five minutes into SMTIV, I called it a night. I watched my friends play Street Fighter IV, Soulcalibur 2 and a few other games before falling asleep. The next morning I skipped the Crunchyroll Manga panel in order to play more SMTIV and Skyrim. I managed to get dressed just in time for the early afternoon Vertical panel.

Like the previous day I parked myself in front of a speaker and tied my microphone to the chair in front of me. Today I had my pen on hand, just in case anything happened to the recording. I’ll admit it right here, I don’t read a lot of Vertical’s manga. The only Vertical series I own is 7 Billion Needles. It was fascinating to see what the smaller publisher had lined up for the rest of the year and into 2015. The panelist, Ed Chavez then switched to the process of manga licensing. Admittedly, I dozed off for a few minutes but thankfully my microphone kept on recording.

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Halo and Marvel cosplay. This isn’t Comic Con! Happily, everyone’s welcome at Otakon.

After the panel and my unexpected power nap and I rushed to grab lunch and caffeine before the FUNimation panel. Fortunately, the FUNi panel was in one of the largest ballrooms in the BCC and I had no problems getting a seat by the speakers. The panel was a blast and as always the panelists were filled with energy as announcement after announcement came. When the panel ended it was immediately time for the Anime Sols panel. It was quieter affair with only one panelist at the table. I wanted to know how Anime Sols was doing since I tend to forget the crowdfunded streaming site exists. I was treated to a lot of old anime during the panel and I’ll admit, not all of the content is to my liking. Anime from the 1960s is a little too old for my tastes.

That night my friends and I watched the first two episodes of Psycho-Pass. I’d forgotten how violent the series is although it looks fantastic on Blu-ray. We then returned to the BCC hoping to get into the “Anime’s Craziest Deaths” panel but the line was closed before the doors even opened. Otaku USA contributor Daryl Surat’s panel is extremely popular.

The final day of Otakon was spent at the dealer’s room before the closing ceremonies and feedback session. As always, the feedback session didn’t disappoint me. I half listened as I balanced my 3DS in my lap tagging everyone I could before the convention ended. (My total was a little over 400 tags.)

The biggest complaint was the long wait on Thursday and the tremendous lack of communication. As I mentioned earlier, the panel explained the systems had failed and the website suffered a DDoS attack. None of the staff slept until the problem was resolved and registrations could be processed quickly again. The other biggest complaint (which is a common complaint every year) was the fact that badges aren’t mailed out. Surprisingly, thanks to the switch to the new badges it seems as if the door has been opened to mailing out the badges. Here’s to hoping these changes happen sooner than later.

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Journey cosplay is a fitting way to mark the journey home. Until next year!

Since there was a hard attendance cap of 35,000 there was no need to announce the attendance numbers. The convention will be held next year on July 24. (And if you’re curious, yes hotel reservations are now open and we’ve already secured a room.) To be honest, given the massive crowds of this year and the rancor over the pre-registration disaster I’m looking forward to the 2017 move to Washington D.C. Until then, see you next year, Baltimore!

 My gallery of Otakon 2014 pictures can be found here on Google+ (no sign-up needed).

Individual write-ups for all the panels I attended will be posted throughout this week and next week.

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